A NEW charity has been launched to help save the Scottish wildcat from impending extinction.
The Scottish Wildcat Association (SWA) will champion the cause of Britain’s rarest mammal and last wild feline, amid fears that with less than 400 left in the wild, extinction could be just five years away. The predator has been resident in Britain for at least 2million years and have shared space with everything from woolly mammoths to cave lions and survived entire ice ages.
But more recently they have fallen foul of human persecution, urban development and, increasingly, hybridisation with domestic feral cats bringing numbers crashing down.
In 2004, scientists concluded that around 400 pure wildcats remained in the Highlands and developed an action plan to save them.
SWA trustee Steve Piper said yesterday that five years later no apparent progress has been made and numbers seem to be falling even lower, and he criticised Scottish Natural Heritage.
He said: “They seem to be paralysed by inertia and keen to blame others for it, suggesting in the press last week that shooting estates had sabotaged their efforts.
“There has been a lot of talk and half-hearted gestures like the recent wildcat population survey; it was so poorly funded the ecologists were left with nothing to work with. It was impossible to achieve the detail needed and everyone knew it.”
An SNH spokesman said yesterday they were supporting a range of conservation work on behalf of the Scottish wildcat. They have allocated £60,000 to run the Scottish Wildcat survey, and £30,000 was spent on a study to conclusively and accurately identify Scottish wildcats. Last year £40,000 was spent on the ground in conservation work
He added: “This year we have just announced a £60,000 commitment to fund the first Scottish wildcat officer. The new officer will work with partner organisations, landowners and managers and conservation groups to pioneer initiatives which help safeguard surviving wildcat populations and create favourable conditions for the species to thrive in future.”
The new post, funded for three years, is based in the heart of wildcat country in the Cairngorms National Park where the largest concentration of the species is believed to live.
SWA was founded by Mr Piper, a filmmaker who shot the acclaimed documentary Last of the Scottish Wildcats.
It is in partnership with charities including Advocates for Animals, Scottish Badgers and the International Otter Survival Fund to ban snares in Scotland.
This has drawn widespread public support but strong opposition from many in rural areas who argue that snares are a cheap and essential pest control device.